Host Spotlight: Chantal Balestri
When she was a child in Fivizzano, Tuscany, Chantal Balestri came to discover music through an unusual medium: solfege lessons. “I started taking solfege lessons because there were no choruses in my small town,” she told me. “At some point, they asked me why I didn’t play an instrument, so I picked up the piano.” Soon after, her piano lessons eclipsed solfege lessons, and a talented pianist was born.
Since the age of seven, Chantal has swept various competitions, including the Osimo International Piano Competition, the NYU Piano Concerto Competition, and the Miami Piano Festival. Her style spans eras and genres: from the Baroque era to contemporary music, as well as chamber music to solo piano works. “Since I was a child, I always loved music, even though my parents are not musicians,” she muses. “For me, it was very natural.” While Chantal’s mother is a pharmacist, and her father is a geologist, her grandmother played the piano for many years. Chantal began to follow along, reading the notes as her grandmother played. “Although my mom doesn’t play and instrument, she supported me, putting me through my concerts and competitions,” Chantal confided.
After graduating from the Lucca Conservatory, Chantal left home at the age of 18. “I was doing a lot of summer festivals in Tuscany, then I lived in Rome, and studied in Freiburg, Germany.” While moving around Italy and Germany, Chantal realized that she was searching for some other experience. “I wanted to open my horizons, so I did auditions, got accepted to different schools, and decided to do a masters at NYU, studying under Jeffrey Swann.” Since her graduation four years ago, she founded and is the artistic director of the Lunigiana International Music Festival - a summer program for voice, strings, and piano. “We have competitions for soloist and orchestra, a competition for composers, and we put on concerts all over Tuscany. It’s a way to stay connected to my hometown.”
Chantal currently resides in Riverdale, in the northwest corner of the Bronx. “The neighborhood is amazing -- there’s lots of green,” she said. “The park there was designed by the same architect that did central park, and many composers lived there.” Famously, Toscanini resided in the historic Wave Hill estate in Riverdale during WWII. Chantal channels the former conductor of the Met through her current musical activities. “I’m teaching, organizing, and performing,” she laughed. “I’m working as a staff pianist in the NYU vocal department, but lately I’ve had concerts in China and Italy, and this fall, I’ll tour as a concert pianist with orchestras around the U.S.”
Her space in Riverdale serves as a quiet retreat for those looking to escape the noise of Manhattan without going too far away. “It’s a beautiful space,” Chantal said of her living area that contains a beautiful grand piano with a view. “My roommate graduated his Bachelors of Music from Juilliard and Masters of Music from the Manhattan School of Music and his name is Juan José Lazaro. We’re lucky because musicians stop by all the time, both from his school and mine. People come over for dinner, to improvise, play pop songs, or even run through an opera rehearsal. There are a lot of friends coming from foreign countries, too, that will stop by our place. We’ll take anyone,” she exclaimed.
Check out Chantel’s music space at: